It wasn’t just the critics Speranza Scappucci impressed when she made her debut at Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège. The flame-haired Italian conductor bristles with fun and energy and her performances conducting Jérusalem (Verdi’s revision of I Lombardi) in March last year earned her the appointment as the company’s new principal conductor, effective within months. Her second season at the helm has just been announced, featuring nine operas – eight of them Italian, thus reflecting the house speciality.

The impressive theatre © Lorraine Wauters | Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège
The impressive theatre
© Lorraine Wauters | Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège

Liège is a delightful city, predominantly French-speaking, the birthplace of César Franck and Eugène Ysaÿe. In the east of Belgium, it lies not far from the Dutch border. Indeed, it is thanks to William of Orange that the theatre which is now home to the Opéra Royal de Wallonie was erected. In 1816, the king ceded land to the city – the site of a former Dominican convent – on the express condition that a theatre was constructed there. The Théâtre Royal de Liège was completed in 1820, its auditorium a classic Italianate horseshoe. The theatre underwent major renovations between 2009 and 2012, and is a little jewel, with a seating capacity of 1041.

Italian and French fare is very much the order of the day here. You have to go back to 2014-15 for an opera in German (Otto Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor). The season kicks off with one of Verdi’s greatest works from his middle years, Il trovatore. Packed with cracking tunes, it’s an opera which rarely gets played – or taken seriously – these days due to its convoluted plot. In Friends style, Trovatore would be subtitled “The one where she burns the wrong baby” and credulity is often stretched as two men – who turn out to be brothers – compete for the hand of the same lady. Like the best Italian operas, it all ends in tears, poison and a swift execution for the tenor. Nevertheless, the music is passionate and red-blooded and is the sort of stuff that fills your head for days afterwards. Stefano Vizioli’s production last played here in 2011 and returns with a cast led by Fabio Sartori as Manrico, Mario Cassi as the Count, and Yolanda Auyanet as Leonora. Violeta Urmana sings Azucena, the gypsy who, in more than one sense, plays with fire.

You have to wait until next February for the first new production of the season, but then they come in a flood, with four new stagings of classics of the Italian repertoire, two conducted by Speranza Scappucci herself. Aida is a big test for any opera house, not least because audiences are – rightly or wrongly – conditioned into expecting grand spectacle and pyramids. Yet beyond the Triumphal March, Aida boils down to a simple love triangle, albeit one where the two women are princesses of warring nations! Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera, the company’s General and Artistic Director, tackles Verdi’s tale of love and conflict in Ancient Egypt. Serena Farnocchia is good casting as Aida in a house this size, along with Nino Surguladze as Amneris (a role she sang in Liège’s previous staging in 2014). Gianluca Terranova is Radamès, while Belgian baritone Lionel Lhote (a house regular) is Aida’s father and Ethiopian king, Amonasro.  

Speranza Scappucci © Lorraine Wauters | Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège
Speranza Scappucci
© Lorraine Wauters | Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège

Mazzonis di Pralafera also directs the new production of Anna Bolena, often described as the first of Donizetti’s “Tudor trilogy”, although that somewhat overlooks Il castello di Kenilworth. All eyes will be on Olga Peretyatko, singing the title role for the first time. The Russian soprano has already scratched up significant successes at the Metropolitan Opera in bel canto repertoire and has given a concert in Liège in 2016, but this will be her operatic debut here. Marko Mimica sings Henry VIII, angling to dispose of Wife No.2 in order to get hitched to Sofia Soloviy’s Jane Seymour.

Husband and wife directorial team Cécile Roussat and Julien Lubek met in 2000, while studying mime with Marcel Marceau. Their first opera they produced together was Die Zauberflöte here in Liège in 2010 and it’s with Mozart that they return with La clemenza di Tito. A classy cast is led by Leonardo Cortellazzi as Tito, with Anna Bonitatibus as Sesto, persuaded by Patrizia Ciofi’s Vitellia to exact revenge against the emperor who deposed her father of the throne.

The final new production of the season is another bel canto classic set in England – this time during the Civil War: Bellini’s I puritani. Vincent Boussard is an experienced director and his staging has costumes designed by Christian Lacroix. Ever-excellent tenor Lawrence Brownlee sings Arturo, the Royalist cavalier, in love with Elvira whose family – inevitably – are Puritans. Scappucci conducts this beautiful score where even the “baddies” (Giorgio and Riccardo) sing a wonderful extended duet.

Among the revivals this season, listen out for Virginia Tola’s Tosca (a role she often sings in Rome), and young Belgian soprano Jodie Devos who sings Countess Adèle in Rossini’s delightful farce Le Comte Ory. And one of the best all-round line-ups takes to the Liège stage for Stefano Poda’s Faust: Marc Laho, Anne-Catherine Gillet, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Lionel Lhote and Na'ama Goldman are impressive casting by any standards.

 

Click here for the full season listings.

 

Article sponsored by Opéra Royal de Wallonie